UPN Seeks Ratings Gold With Platinum
But African-American dramas have a dismal track record on broadcast TV
By Paige Albiniak -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/13/2003 8:00:00 PM
If the six-episode run of Platinum, premiering tonight on UPN, fails to attract much of an audience, it will just be another blip on TV's never-ending cycle of developing and launching prime time programs. If it succeeds, though, it will be a landmark for UPN on several levels.
First, it will be one of this year's few bright spots for the network, which has found itself struggling with a 20% decline in ratings, including drop-offs in the network's linchpins, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, WWE Smackdown! and Enterprise.
It also will be the first success for UPN President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff, who is launching the first shows she has developed since CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves hired her in January 2002.
And it will be the first successful prime time television drama built around a mostly African-American cast of characters. Although there have been many popular sitcoms starring African-American casts on prime time broadcast television, no drama has ever made the cut. And dramas with mostly minority characters, such as CBS's recent City of Angels, also have failed.
But UPN, whose Monday-night slate of urban comedies is a solid performer, believes that its audience is ready for a show like Platinum, which features an African-American family that owns a hip-hop record company.
The show also has Caucasian characters, and Ostroff thinks it can be a crossover hit. "Look at movies like 8 Mile, starring Eminem. When you see the success of the movie, the DVD and the CD, it makes you realize how much interest people have in this subject matter. You have an opportunity to cross over when you see how broad this is.
"This show has the potential to be a franchise series for this network," she adds. And UPN needs such a series, especially with Buffy going off the air after its May 20 finale.
If Platinum works, it will set a positive tone for UPN's fall season. Already, the network has several urban-themed shows in development, including one with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and one with hip-hop artist Eve.
Platinum is a hip, edgy show written, directed and produced by top talent John Ridley, Francis Ford Coppola, Sophia Coppola and Kevin Bray and executive-produced by Robert Greenblatt and David Janollari, executive producers of HBO's award-winning Six Feet Under. UPN is airing six episodes over five weeks, starting with tonight's show and then moving to the show's regular time period on Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
Ostroff expects the show to appeal directly to UPN's target audience: "18- to 34-year-olds who are bold, daring trend-setters, people who have a lot in common with people who buy hip-hop and rap music. They are heavy consumers of media, technology and pop culture. They are our core viewers and the viewers we reach out to."
To further reach this audience, UPN will repurpose the show eight to 10 days later on Viacom sister network MTV, whose core demographic is similar to UPN's. Both networks will promote the show.
UPN has heavily promoted Platinum. It has run progressively longer promos, starting with 10-second teases a month before the show launched and finishing with longer-form 45- and 60-second spots last week.
The network also bought time on cable networks VH1, Comedy Central, TNT, TNN, FX and E!, Clark says. And UPN targeted publications, including People magazine, US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, Vibe, Jet and Ebony, as well as urban hip-hop and pop radio stations in top markets.
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